A Philosophy of Education Volume 6 Book 1 Chapter 10 Section 2b

II


THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN

(b) LITERATURE

EXCEPT in Form I the study of Literature goes pari passu with that of History. Fairy tales, (Andersen or Grimm, for example), delight Form IB, and the little people re-tell these tales copiously, vividly, and with the astonishing exactness we may expect when we remember how seriously annoyed they are with the story-teller who alters a phrase or a circumstance. Æsop’s Fables, too, are used with great success, and are rendered, after being once heard, with brevity and point, and children readily appropriate the moral. Mrs. Gatty’s Parables from Nature, again, serve another purpose. They feed a child’s sense of wonder and are very good to tell. There is no attempt to reduce the work of this form, or any other, to a supposed ‘child level.’ Form IA (7 to 9) hears and tells chapter by chapter The Pilgrim’s Progress and the children’s narrations are delightful. No beautiful thought or bold figure escapes them. Andrew Lang’s[1]
p.181
Tales of Troy and Greece, a big volume, is a pièce de resistance going on from term to term.
          The great tales of the heroic age find their way to children’s hearts. They conceive vividly and tell eagerly, and the difficult classical names instead of being a stumbling-block are a delight, because, as a Master of a Council school says
          “Children have an instinctive power by which they are able to sense the meaning of a whole passage and even some difficult words.”

          That the sonorous beauty of these classical names appeals to them is illustrated by a further quotation from the same Master,—
          “A boy of about seven in my school the other day asked his mother why she had not given him one of those pretty names they heard in the stories at school. He thought Ulysses a prettier name than his own, Kenneth, and that the mother of his playmate might have called him Achilles instead of Alan.”
          There is profound need to cultivate delight in beautiful names in days when we are threatened with the fear that London itself should lose that rich halo of historic associations which glorifies its every street and alley, that it may be made like New York, and should name a street X500,—like a workhouse child without designation; an age when we express the glory and beauty of the next highest peak of the Himalayas by naming it D2! In such an age, this, of their inherent aptitude for beautiful names, is a lode of much promise in children’s minds. The Kaffir who announced that his name was Telephone ‘ had an ear for sound. Kingsley’s Water Babies, Alice in Wonderland, Kipling’s Just So Stories, scores of exquisite classics written for children, but not written down to them, are suitable at this stage.
          Form IIB has a considerable programme of reading, that is, not the mere mechanical exercise of reading but the reading of certain books. Therefore it is necessary
p.182
that two years should be spent in Form IA and that in the second of these two years the children should read a good deal of the set work for themselves. In IIB they read their own geography, history, poetry, but perhaps Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, say, Scott’s Rob Roy, Gulliver’s Travels, should be read to them and narrated by them until they are well in their tenth year. Their power to understand, visualise, and ‘tell’ a play of Shakespeare from nine years old and onwards is very surprising. They put in nothing which is not there, but they miss nothing and display a passage or a scene in a sort of curious relief. One or two books of the calibre of The Heroes of Asgard are also included in the programme for the term.
          The transition to Form IIA is marked by more individual reading as well as by a few additional books. The children read their ‘Shakespeare play’ in character. Certain Council School boys, we are told, insist on dramatising Scott as they read it. Bulfinch’s Age of Fable admits them to the rich imaginings of peoples who did not yet know. Goldsmith’s poems and Stevenson’s Kidnapped, etc., may form part of a term’s work, and in each and all children shew the same surprising power of knowing, evinced by the one sure test,—they are able to ‘tell’ each work they have read not only with accuracy but with spirit and originality. How is it possible, it may be asked, to show originality in ‘mere narration’? Let us ask Scott, Shakespeare, Homer, who told what they knew, that is narrated, but with continual scintillations from their own genius playing upon the written word. Just so in their small degree do the children narrate; they see it all so vividly that when you read or hear their versions the theme is illuminated for you too.
          Children remain in Form II until they are twelve, and here I would remark on the evenness with which the
p.183
power of children in dealing with books is developed. We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers. The surprises afforded by the dull and even the ‘backward’ children are encouraging and illuminating. We think we know that man is an educable being, but when we afford to children all that they want we discover how straitened were our views, how poor and narrow the education we offered. Even in so-called deficient children we perceive,—
          “What a piece of work is man . . . . In apprehension, how like a god !”

          In Forms III and IV we introduce a History of English Literature carefully chosen to afford sympathetic interest and delight while avoiding stereotyped opinions and stale information. The portion read each term (say fifty pages) corresponds with the period covered in history studies and the book is a great favourite with children. They have of course a great flair for Shakespeare, whether King Lear, Twelfth Night, Henry V, or some other play, and The Waverleys usually afford a contemporary tale. There has been discussion in Elementary Schools as to whether an abridged edition would not give a better chance of getting through the novel set for a term, but strong arguments were brought forward at a conference of teachers in Gloucester in favour of a complete edition. Children take pleasure in the ‘dry’ parts, descriptions and the like, rendering these quite beautifully in their narrations. Form IV may have quite a wide course of reading. For instance if the historical period for a term include the Commonwealth, they may read L’Allegro, and Il Penseroso, Lycidas, and contemporary poets as represented in a good anthology, or, for
p.184
a later period, Pope’s Rape of the Lock, or Gray’s poems, while Form III read poems of Goldsmith and Burns. The object of children’s literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in the reign of whom?—but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth, but of all those times of which poets, historians and the makers of tales, have left us living pictures. In such ways the children secure, not the sort of information which is of little cultural value, but wide spaces wherein imagination may take those holiday excursions deprived of which life is dreary; judgment, too, will turn over these folios of the mind and arrive at fairly just decisions about a given strike, the question of Poland, Indian Unrest. Every man is called upon to be a statesman seeing that every man and woman, too, has a share in the government of the country; but statesmanship requires imaginative conceptions, formed upon pretty wide reading and some familiarity with historical precedents.
          The reading for Forms V and VI (ages 15 to 18) is more comprehensive and more difficult. Like that in the earlier Forms, it follows the lines of the history they are reading, touching current literature in the occasional use of modern books; but young people who have been brought up on this sort of work may, we find, be trusted to keep themselves au fait with the best that is being produced in their own days. Given the proper period, Form V would cover in a term Fope’s Essay on Man, Carlyle’s Essay on Burns, Frankfort Moore’s Jessamy Bride, Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World (edited), Thackeray’s The Virginians, the contemporary poets from an anthology. Form VI would read Boswell, The Battle of the Books, Macaulay’s Essays on Goldsmith, Johnson, Fitt; the contemporary poets from The Oxford Book of Verse, and both Forms read She Stoops to Conquer. This course of reading, it will be seen, is suggestive and
p.185
will lead to much reading round and about it in later days. As for the amount covered in each Form, it is probably about the amount most of us cover in the period of time included in a school term, but while we grown-up persons read and forget because we do not take the pains to know as we read, these young students have the powers of perfect recollection and just application because they have read with attention and concentration and have in every case reproduced what they have read in narration, or, the gist of some portion of it, in writing.
          The children’s answers[2] in their examination papers, show that literature has become a living power in the minds of these young people.


[1] Examination papers giving some idea of the scope of the history studies in the P.U.S. may be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.

[2] Examination papers giving some idea of the scope of the history studies in the P.U.S. may be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s